Friday, December 20, 2013

On LDC's, county says it's conducting a review, not an investigation

Posted By on Fri, Dec 20, 2013 at 12:47 PM

One of the central issues in an ongoing County Legislature skirmish is the county administration's internal review related to local development corporations. The administration has hired former state Attorney General Dennis Vacco to lead that review.

Legislature Democrats say that the Legislature should be in charge of the internal probe, not the administration. Between this week and last, the Dems have twice blocked a large capital project borrowing plan in hopes of flexing a little political muscle and getting Republican legislators to go along with their probe plan. They say that County Executive Maggie Brooks shouldn't lead an investigation into her own administration. 

But earlier this week, Republicans shot down a referral that would have established a committee of legislators to lead an internal LDC probe. 

Democrats have other complaints about the county's contract with Vacco's law firm. Chiefly, they say they haven't received any details about what he's looking into, who he's talking to, or what he's finding. They say they've asked asked repeatedly to be filled in. 

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Dems again block borrowing; GOP says Costco at risk

Posted By on Fri, Dec 20, 2013 at 11:22 AM

An ongoing County Legislature feud is only going to get more complicated, now that a proposed Costco store and the county's Children's Detention Center are getting dragged into it.

The conflict has its roots in two issues: a Democratic proposal to form a committee to conduct an internal review related to county-linked local development corporations; and a borrowing measure that would fund approximately 70 county projects. Democrats are blocking the latter in hopes of leveraging support for the former.

During a testy special meeting held early this morning (it started at 6:30 a.m. and there was much shouting), Democrats again blocked the borrowing measure. Democratic Minority Leader Carrie Andrews said that neither the administration nor the Legislature's Republican leadership had provided a rationale as to why the borrowing measure was being reconsidered at that particular time.

Democratic Legislator Willie Joe Lightfoot called the timing of the meeting "political trickery" that prevented the public from attending. If people weren't still sleeping, he said, they were getting ready for work.

County Executive Maggie Brooks and Republican legislators maintain that Democrats are putting Monroe Community College's downtown campus project in jeopardy by blocking the referral, which would authorize $44 million in borrowing for the new campus. And they continued that line of attack this morning.

"It's time that this political posturing ends," said Republican Legislator Dan Quatro.

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Silver says hold off on sharing student data

Posted By on Fri, Dec 20, 2013 at 10:46 AM

This can’t be an easy time for New York State Education Commissioner John King. The commissioner, who came into office not long ago with a bold reform agenda, is increasingly seeing those plans come under fire.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is the latest to question King. He sent a letter to the state Education Department recommending that the massive data collection program that is supposed to provide detailed information on all students to inBloom for analysis be suspended.

The company has received $100 million from the Gates Foundation to collect data that can be used to quickly provide districts with more accurate assessment tools. But parents from New York City to Buffalo are extremely concerned about who will have access to this personal information and how it will be used.

And with information frequently being stolen and systems hacked, parents put little faith in a company’s promises of safeguards.

Until recently, King has been able to sidestep criticism about the Common Core curriculum and the new teacher evaluations. But after months of failing to ease the concerns of many vocal parents and teachers, King, is dealing with growing resistance instead of less. The criticism extends to the SED and the Board of Regents, too.

Last week, State Senator John Flanagan issued an unflattering report based on his own findings. It recommended slowing down the implementation of the Common Core and reducing the number of tests students take. 

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

[UPDATED] City Council meets to settle leadership roles

Posted By on Thu, Dec 19, 2013 at 1:08 PM

UPDATE — Starting in 2014, Loretta Scott will be City Council president. City Council members unanimously elected her to the position during a vote this afternoon. Dana Miller was reelected as vice president of City Council, and that vote was also unanimous.

Original post: Members of City Council are expected to meet this afternoon to select a president and vice president for 2014. Who gets picked should tell us something about how this Council will work with incoming mayor Lovely Warren.
Loretta Scott. - FILE PHOTO
  • Loretta Scott.

Loretta Scott is the odds-on favorite for president, and she has been taking more of a leadership role in the most recent Council meetings. Vice president could be interesting. Current VP Dana Miller wants to hold on to the job, but there are hints that Council could go with Matt Haag. Haag supported incumbent Tom Richards in the mayor’s race, but he’s politically less divisive than some other members. He’s also well-liked and a hard worker.

A Haag choice could also be seen as a breadcrumb or an olive branch to Richards supporters. Miller backed Warren, as did Scott and Adam McFadden. Mike Patterson is brand new to Council — he was sworn-in Tuesday to take Warren’s seat — but he has ties to David Gantt, so he’s likely to be solidly behind Warren, too.

This is a very divided Council, in quite a few ways. And it may be overreaching, but I think the VP pick could give us an indication whether Council is going to actively try to bridge those divides or not. 

If you’re tempted to look at these titles as simply ceremonial — don’t. The fight over them has turned ugly in the past and some of the hurts from past leadership battles linger, affecting Council to this day.

Legislature to meet at 6:30 a.m. tomorrow

Posted By on Thu, Dec 19, 2013 at 12:27 PM

County Legislature President Jeff Adair has scheduled a special meeting of the Legislature for tomorrow at 6:30 a.m. — that's not a typo — so representatives can again vote on borrowing for the county's yearly capital plan. Democrats blocked the measure last week. 

It's hard to see Adair's action as anything other than a tactical move. Democrats are holding up the borrowing to try to get Republicans to agree to a Legislature-led internal probe into two county-linked local development corporations. The probe right now is being led by the administration. 

Republicans reject the idea and have been trying to pressure Democrats into supporting the borrowing measure. That whole tangle is explained in this blog post.

Democrats say they weren't asked about the timing of tomorrow's meeting. 

It's unlikely that Republicans have been able to peel away the single Democratic vote they need to pass the borrowing measure, which includes funding for many county projects in 2014.

Adair is including another item on the agenda: legislation that would authorize an additional $9 million in borrowing to finance a project relating to the county's children's detention center. The legislation, submitted by County Executive Maggie Brooks, doesn't contain many details. The legislation says that the project "involves the renovation of approximately 20,000 square feet and an addition of approximately 15,000 square feet to premises to be acquired or leased for use as the Monroe County Children's Detention Center."

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Gay pride meets Putin

Posted By on Thu, Dec 19, 2013 at 10:11 AM

There are reasons why the LGBT community responds so strongly to athletes who come out publicly; it remains an extremely difficult decision to make and can lead to serious consequences, from career damage to physical and emotional harm.

The LGBT community’s connection to the world of professional sports and athletics has a strange and sometimes dark history that may go unnoticed by the rest of society. It’s often in the junior high and high school gymnasium that many gay people first experience rejection from friends and family members. For many in the LGBT community, it’s in the gymnasium where it becomes obvious that their interests and talents often veer from some older and more accepted standards.

And it's often on the gymnasium floor where sexual identification is confronted, and where many gay young people are crudely exposed as different. The tall young boy who has no aptitude for basketball, the teenage girl who wants to play hockey are often suddenly treated with suspicion.

President Obama’s decision to send openly gay athletes as part of a diverse delegation to the Sochi Olympics sends a clear message to Russian President Putin that the US doesn’t approve of Putin's crackdown on the LGBT community. Tennis legend Billie Jean King and hockey star Caitlin Cahow will accompany the US delegation to Russia.

Politicians have long used minorities to further their personal ambitions. And Putin has taken several steps in recent years to reshape Russia’s image as a strong and assertive emerging power, highlighting declining US influence whenever the opportunity arises. The former KGB leader is frequently seen preening his personal image of masculinity and power.

Putin has made it extremely risky to be out in the new democratic Russia, despite the rich contribution Russia’s LGBT community has made to art, literature, and philosophy. LGBT people who are perceived as somehow influencing Russians who are 18 and under can be severely punished, which largely defines being gay in that country as deviant and unacceptable.

The presence of gay athletes at Sochi is a milestone for the LGBT community here, as well as a message of solidarity with the community in Russia, where the wrong word or gesture could land a person in prison. Though Olympic rules prevent athletes from making political statements, the presence of our LGBT athletes and delegates will be a proud moment.

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What will Lovely Warren do about the city schools?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 19, 2013 at 9:58 AM

Before Mayor-Elect Lovely Warren does anything in office, she apparently wants residents to give their input on several issues impacting the city. Last weekend she held a brief event built around focus groups. A couple of people who attended the event said it was an impressive guest list consisting of neighb
Mayor-elect Lovely Warren - FILE PHOTO.
  • File photo.
  • Mayor-elect Lovely Warren
orhood leaders, school officials, business people, heads of nonprofits, and some of the area’s pols.

If you go to Warren’s transition website, and type “Have Your Say” at the top, it takes you to a link with a digested recap of the focus groups, broken out by category. And residents can continue to add their comments and suggestions on the site.

The education category is especially interesting. There are many excellent ideas, but many are simply out of Warren’s purview and control. Some of the responses are about efforts that already exist, and others would require so much in the way of funding that they aren't feasible.

Some of the best ideas from the education focus group include supporting Superintendent Bolgen Vargas’s efforts to improve reading proficiency. We know that students who fall behind in reading are on a path of hardship and struggle.

Warren shouldn't just bring new charter schools to Rochester. There are plenty of advocates for charters. Instead, she should help infuse city schools with the best practices of highly successful charters.

And she needs to improve public safety. Many city students witness violence and illegal activities outside of school so often that it has become a norm for school behavior, too. And many parents who may favor a neighborhood school choose schools that are farther away just to take advantage of busing so their children can avoid a potentially dangerous walk to school. 

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Evans won't seek seventh term as Rochester school board president

Posted By on Wed, Dec 18, 2013 at 1:50 PM

Malik Evans said today that he wi
Malik Evans. - FILE PHOTO.
  • File photo.
  • Malik Evans.
ll  not seek another term as president of the Rochester school board. Evans served six terms at the board's helm and presided over several tumultuous periods, including the messy departure of former Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard.

The board will elect its leaders in January and with Evans’s announcement, the way is most likely  cleared for board member Van White who has long been interested in the presidency. Evans and White had a brief disagreement over who would become president last year.

If White is chosen, he will supervise a superintendent he opposed hiring. But White says that he has forged a positive relationship with Vargas and that he has supported some of the superintendent's biggest endeavors. 

Whomever board members elect as their leader for 2014 will also deal with a new mayor in  Lovely  Warren, as well as a district under close scrutiny from New York State Education Commissioner John King. And an increase in the number of charter schools will continue to siphon students away from the district.

Any higher ambitions the next board may harbor could be short-lived unless the district shows significant signs of improvement.

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Decision on Wiesner charges pending

Posted By on Wed, Dec 18, 2013 at 12:28 PM

Several media outlets are reporting that a judge has postponed his decision whether to dismiss charges against Robert Wiesner, who is one of four defendants in a bid-rigging case involving two county-linked local development corporations. 

Wiesner's attorney, James Nobles, has filed a motion to have the charges dismissed. His client was never given an opportunity to testify to a grand jury, Nobles says, despite requesting to do so. The state Attorney General's Office also submitted a motion to have the charges dismissed. But only so it could impanel a new grand jury to decide whether Wiesner should face charges and what those charges should be. 

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Legislature committee backs MCC contracts

But other committees, and the full Lej, must also consider them.

Posted By on Wed, Dec 18, 2013 at 9:38 AM

Without any debate, a County Legislature committee passed legislation last night awarding design and construction management contracts for Monroe Community College's new downtown campus. 

The project is one of many caught in a standoff between Democratic and Republican legislators. Democrats are holding up a large borrowing measure, which includes $44 million for the MCC project. The legislation requires yes votes from at least two-thirds of legislators to pass, and Republicans can't meet that threshold on their own.

Dems are holding up the borrowing because they want Republicans to work with them to bring an internal investigation into county-linked local development corporations under the Legislature's oversight. The county administration is currently overseeing that review, but Dems say that's a clear conflict of interest. Earlier this week, Republican legislators shot down a Democratic proposal to form a Legislature committee to oversee the internal investigation.

Republicans have said that Democrats could delay the MCC project by holding up the borrowing measure. But the Dems say the project shouldn't be delayed, especially since construction is still a ways off. They've pointed to the legislation considered last night to prove their point: $24 million from previous borrowing remains available and the design and construction management contracts that the legislation awarded have total costs of approximately $7 million. So the project is proceeding, Dems say, despite the conflict over the bonding plan. 

"We're very happy that this went through without objection," Democratic Legislator Joe Morelle Jr., said after the meeting.

Two other committees still have to weigh in on the legislation, which they'll do tonight. And the measure must be put to a vote in the full Legislature.

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